Supporting Syrian academics to be agents for change: The role of UK universities

Catherine Camps, Tom Parkinson , Sarah Brewer, Jon Turner, Kate Robertson, Karin Whiteside, Tarek Zoubir

    Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


    The Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) has supported persecuted academics from across the world since 1933, combining its historical core Fellowship Programme with country programmes over the past decade, in instances where academics, as a group, are being specifically targeted by states or parties to a conflict.

    Working in partnership with the 117 universities that make up the ‘Cara Scholars at Risk UK Universities Network’ the Cara Fellowship Programme offers periods of sanctuary in the form of doctoral and post-doctoral placements, to allow academics at risk to continue their work in safety until such time as they are able to return to their countries of origin.

    The Cara Syria Programme was launched in 2012 in response to the country’s civil war, which has precipitated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis for over a generation. In 2015, the growing number of Syrian academics seeking Cara’s help led to the decision to extend Syria Programme to the region and, following initial consultations, a roundtable (Cara, 2016) and needs analyses involving Syrian academics, a twelve-month pilot (Phase 1) was launched in Turkey in September 2016. Phase 2 was launched in October 2017.

    The aim of the Syria Programme in Region is to use this period of uncertainty to connect and strengthen Syria’s academic community in exile to ensure they can play their vital role in the rebuilding of Syria’s higher education and research sectors when security allows. The Programme provides in situ support across five strands: English for Academic Purposes (EAP), Academic Skills Development (ASD), Research Incubation Visits (RIV), Cara-Commissioned Research (CCR), with a fifth introduced in Phase 2, The Syria Research Fellowship Scheme (SRFS), offering small and medium research grants to support research of relevance to Syria and Syrian populations in exile. Central to each of these activities is Cara’s partnership model, facilitating collaboration with colleagues from the wider regional and international academic and scientific communities.

    Since February 2017, the EAP and ASD strands have been delivered through a blended learning approach, combining two-monthly intensive residential events in Istanbul with weekly one-to-one English lessons and webinars to address the emerging academic development needs of our Syrian colleagues. A dedicated Portal supports all online activities, which are delivered by over 80 volunteer tutors, facilitators and academics (hereafter collectively referred to as volunteer experts). The development and delivery of these intensive programme of workshops and activities are guided by the EAP and ASD steering groups over email and Skype, with input from a wider pool of colleagues, and relate to themes such as research planning, teaching and learning, communication, and technology.

    As the Syria Programme has developed, we have found ourselves working in a context that is often at stark odds with our professional experiences in the UK, and in which our assumptions, expertise, and practices are routinely challenged. This article provides us with an opportunity to take stock of our experiences thus far, and document some reflections and insights relating to our work on the Cara Syria Programme and its implications for academic development more generally. Over 300 Syrian academics are now registered with the Programme, of which over 80 who are actively involved in one or more of the Programme’s five strands.
    Original languageEnglish
    Specialist publicationEducational Developments
    PublisherStaff and Educational Development Association
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2018


    • Syria
    • Higher Education
    • Academic development
    • English for Academic Purposes
    • CARA
    • Council for At-Risk Academics
    • persecuted academics


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